Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time To Cut Back On Homework?

Just read an interesting article from the LA Times on some schools that are cutting back on homework. Afterwards, I kept thinking about what the article had said.

Apparently my son's school did not get that same memo, as they have been piling on some serious quantities of work since the 3rd grade. Sure, some of it has probably been busy work. However, I have been really impressed by the quality of some of the assignments.

For example, they had a weekly assignment called "Crack The Code". This was 7 problems, one for each day of the week. One was a Sudoku, another a cipher of numbers to figure out what was the sentance actually encoded. There would frequently be a list of numbers where one of them did not belong, one week they were all prime numbers except for one. Basically, with homework like this, these kids will be ready for their Google interviews.

But much homework at less well funded and organized schools than the creme-de-la-creme of LA's gifted magnet programs is likely a lot less fun and interesting than what I just described. That said, is it really right to just give up? Kids need time to play and have fun, and they also need to spend some time getting to that mythical 10,000 hours to mastery.

The real question is, how can we make learning more fun?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kids Can Help Explore The Universe (Really) With Galaxy Zoo

I just learned about a really fun and neat way for science-oriented kids to get involved in doing some REAL science. There is an amazing project to categorize galaxies called Galaxy Zoo 2, and they need help.

There have been thousands of faraway galaxies observed by robotic telescopes as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. As it turns out, human beings are much better at looking at these images, and grouping them into categories, than any software that has so far been written.

It is pretty easy to signup for an account, and there is an easy to follow tutorial that even a grownup could understand. Next thing you know, you are working with of a team of deep space astronomers helping unlock secrets of the universe. Cool!

Anyhow, go check it out, and let your inner space explorer run wild. From looking at the message boards, there are a lot of people very into this, and I can see why.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just Being Geeky With A Lego Family Photo Contest

I just have to drop a gratuitous mention of GeekDad which is one of my favorite blogs. Chris Anderson is a hero of mine, and he has always got something cool to say. He is also into building robotic flying vehicles, an obsession that I have gotten into myself.

Most recently, GeekDad is having a photo contest of family Lego building. It just so happens that my family has had some epic Lego sessions, so I am now just awaiting the next chance to capture us in action, and submit an entry.

Oh, how I love stepping on a Lego brick in the middle of the night barefoot!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tech And Academic Achievement

I just read an impressive article from Les Foltos on the relationship between classroom technology use and academic achievement in students. It is chock full of real data collected in several studies, and despite being wordy like most academic papers, it is definitely worth perusal.

Here are a few tidbits:

- Despite $5 billion annual in spending on classroom tech "fewer than 20% of teachers use technology several times a week, and up to half of all teachers didn't use technology at all."
- Using computers to teach low order thinking skills, "...[W]as negatively related to academic achievement…." Put another way, this type of computer use was worse than doing nothing. By contrast, teachers who had students use computers to solve simulations saw their students' math scores increase significantly.
- "We find that when you put the two, (inquiry based learning and true technology integration) together there's a synergy created that really boosts students' learning"

Go read it, and see how it matches against your own kids' experiences.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Playing With Trash

I just read about an amazing 12-year old kid named Max Wallack. He built an incredible thing out of discarded materials: a shelter that someone could actually sleep in.

Many kids around this age, like my own, are obsessing over strategy for some online game. Max, on the other hand, has obviously been thinking about the two problems of trash and homelessness, and has a pretty interesting solution to both in one fell swoop.

Great job! I suggest someone hire this kid right now...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Learn Programming On An Xbox

Lots of kids will gladly spend hours on their Xboxes, my own child included. He loves the environments of 3D games, and has expressed the desire to create his own. But existing PC-based 2D game creation environments do not hold his interest, he demands results that match the immersiveness of his favorite titles, and that can be played on his game console.

Brady Forrest from O'Reilly Radar posts about Kodu (nee Boku), a project from Microsoft Research that has been around for a couple of years, but appears to be almost ready for action. It looks like it is a very exciting, and innovative way for kids to create their own games using a visual "programming language" on their Xbox. They can also exchange games with each other.

Kodu looks very exciting, and we will definitely be getting it once it is available.

Are Online Social Networks Good For Kids?

After the many explosive stories in the press about online safety and MySpace etc. it might seem crazy to suggest that kids and social networks might be a good thing. However, Susan Lacy has an interesting post on TechCrunch regarding kids and social networking that is worth a read.

Apparently, Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford and the director of the Royal Institution "has the United Kingdom up in a tizzy about the idea that Facebook, Bebo and Twitter are warping their children’s minds". However, Susan does point out "like a lot of people who don’t actually use these sites, she’s [Greenfield] missing a fundamental shift from Web 1.0 chat room days to Web 2.0 social networks: Real identity".

Something about that response caught my interest. Although my own son is not at all interested in social networking sites per se, he is very interested in the online relationships that he has in his preferred gaming sites. I was interested to discover recently that many of his online friends are from real life. Since he goes to a school on the other side of town, and many of his school friends also have to travel, there are few other ways we really have for them to interact during non-school hours. They have apparently discovered a couple of online games in which they like to play together.

I asked him wouldn't he prefer to get together with them in person. He said he would, but "everyone's parents are too busy and they live too far." There are some interesting twists to this modern life... and kids are adapting.